What appeared to be a bad day for the memory of George M. Cohan, a pioneer of American musical theater, could turn out to be a glorious day for the residents of the Great Neck Park District. The New York Post recently reported that the Times Square Business Improvement District has proposed moving Mr. Cohan's statue from its place in the Crossroads of the World, and the Kings Point mansion which the Cohan family built and lived in for many years was put up for sale. The most recent owner, Jack Gross, died in October, and the 27-room mansion on over six acres of waterfront property abutting Steppingstone Park, was recently put on the market. The park district would love to purchase this property.
Park Superintendent Richard Arenella tells of how, years ago, a previous park board had asked Mr. Gross for a right of first refusal, should he decide to sell his home. Even though Mr. Gross never replied to the park, when he died, his sons discovered the park's letter and contacted Mr. Arenella.
And now the current park board is looking for a way to make this happen.
''The additional property would really enhance and beautify Steppingstone Park,'' said Park Commissioner Ruth Tamarin. The six acres, with about 243 feet of shoreline, would greatly add to Steppingstone's 11 acres and 520 feet of shoreline.
According to Park Commission Chair William S. Dobkin, acquiring this piece of property would be greatly advantageous to Great Neck Park District residents. Mr. Dobkin spoke of an enlarged park, an enlarged waterfront, quieter concerts (with a greater buffer surrounding the waterside theater) and many new parking spaces. Just as important, the park district would be saving open space, preserving trees, and preserving history by maintaining the beautiful old home.
Mr. Dobkin noted that the ''natural slope of the land (of the property for sale) would add the Greek-amphitheater effect to our waterside theater.'' And he added, ''There are all kinds of possibilities.''
Mr. Arenella said that, if renovated, the old 12-bedroom mansion (which once also belonged to Walter Annenberg) could be transformed into park district office space, consolidating his Parkwood offices, the Beach Road commissioners' offices, and the Great Neck House offices. The renovation would require much work---a new roof, new porches, new plumbing and electricity, and asbestos abatement, a complete renovation. This, Mr. Arenella estimates, would cost about $2 million.
In addition to the house, the garages across the street would be ideal to store park trucks and equipment. ''We could really use that space,'' said Mr. Arenella.
''With building going on at such a rapid rate, it would be wonderful if the park district could save this property that is contiguous with both Steppingstone Park and Kings Point Park,'' stated Ms. Tamarin, adding ''It is the mission of the park commissioners to try to preserve as much green space as possible, because developers utilize every inch for homes and commercial buildings and subdivisions.
The Gross family is asking $9 million for the property, according to the Post article. And though Ms. Tamarin reports that the family would like to sell to the park district, Mr. Dobkin noted that ''there is a gap between the price and our ability to meet such a price.''
When the Great Neck Record contacted the Gross family, they declined to comment.
In fact, the park commissioners have been on top of this dream from the first notification of Mr. Gross's death. ''But,'' said Ms. Tamarin, ''we are not sure if we will have the support of the park district residents.''
Should the Gross family accept an offer that the park district feels it can afford, it would then be up to the Village of Kings Point to approve the sale. Mr. Dobkin also reports that the park board has met with the village board, and ''They were not against the park acquiring the property.''
Kings Point Mayor Michael Kalnick explained that the park district would need Kings Point approval to purchase the property because such a purchase would take the property off the village's tax role and, as a result, in a way, ''the Kings Point residents would become the financiers.''
Should the Gross family agree to an acceptable price, and should the village give its approval, the main issue would be how to raise funds. Grants are certainly a possibility, but state and federal grants are out because of park district policies of restricting use by non-residents.
And while they are still seeking other types of grant money, Ms. Tamarin said that it is their ''dream'' to find private sources---corporations, foundations, individuals---that could offer contributions and/or grants.
It seems as if the park district indeed needs an ''angel'' to make their dream come true. And in the end, it may be a great day both for the Great Neck Park District and for the memory of George M. Cohan.